Beginner Off Trail Backpacking Destination Yosemite
Echo Lake is well known in the backpacking community that has ventured to the back lakes of the Cathedral range. It is often overlooked when booking much more popular locations but in our view is a perfect beginner backpacking location for going off trail for the first time in Yosemite.
Echo Lake is part of the Cathedral range in Yosemite and sits a short distance 1.5 miles approx. from Upper Cathedral lake allowing Backpackers to hike on the JMT til just past Upper Cathedral lake before leaving the trail to the south East through a meadow and along the base of Echo peaks.
Echo Lake is a simple little lake wrapped with a lush moss meadow full of moisture and draped with Echo Peaks to the North, Matthes Crest to the East and the granite walls on the West that cut us off from the busy JMT trail.
Echo lake is below the 9600′ mark which means campfires are allowed in previous fire pits around the lake and the Forest canopy surrounding the meadow was full of suitable camp spots. (Plenty of trees as well for Hammock Camping) Because of the high peaks on Three sides the sunset here is brief and the Sierra glow is minimal at best off the Peaks to the East. Sunrise on the lake is gorgeous at Echo peak and Tresidder peaks catch the suns early rays and reflect back on the lake below.
There is some fishing at the lake, but the lake is shallow and small so not the best for swimming. Wildlife is plentiful in this lush meadow are and adventurers will find rock climbing on the base of echo peaks and Matthes crest inviting.
Backpacking on this route will require a Cathedral Lakes Trail Wilderness Permit. More advanced hikes are available in region that can also bring you to this lake in your travels from (Nelson Lake, Sunrise Lakes, Budd Lake)
We stayed at Echo Lake on the third day of a off trail course from Nelson Lake through Matthes Lake and around (More advanced trip) Our stay at Echo was very pleasant and rewarding. The hike out to Tuolumne meadows past Cathedral Lake was easy hike and besides the crowds of people once we hit the JMT we loved this section of the hike.
We recommend if you want to find a location away from the crowds of the JMT and Cathedral Lakes Echo lake wis a nice alternative. Of course if you are a bit more adventurous Matthes Lake is also a stunning option